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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.4Organisation of general upper secondary education

Last update: 4 June 2024


Types of institutions

General upper secondary education comprises


The one-year pre-vocational school primarily targets 14- to 15-year-olds who want to undergo training in a profession in the dual system (part-time vocational school and company-based training) immediately after completing compulsory schooling. On the basis of the pedagogical package adopted in 2018 (federal law), pupils in pre-vocational schools can also voluntarily attend a further, 10th school year.

Instruction comprises a general-education section and an elective section. In the elective section, pupils select one out of seven specialist areas depending on their professional interests. Pre-vocational schools are run as full-day school forms.

The three school types of academic secondary school  are characterised in the upper cycle (5th to 8th grade) as follows:

  • Gymnasium: The focus is on a humanistic education with Latin and foreign language(s).
  • Realgymnasium: Great importance is attached to natural science subjects
  • Wirtschaftskundliches Realgymnasium: The training focuses on economics-related subjects.


Oberstufenrealgymnasium can be attended starting from the 9th grade. It offers various areas of focus, e.g. scientific and artistic subjects.

Academic secondary schools are completed with the matriculation examination and their graduates are entitled to access higher education (general HE entrance qualification).


Geographical accessibility

Pre-vocational schools are located in the vicinity of residential areas and can, as a rule, be easily reached by public transport or school buses.

The federal government is in charge of the new construction of academic secondary schools and ensures that sufficient facilities are available.

Students can use public transport to and from school almost free of charge. A small lump sum is to be paid to the respective transport company as an own contribution.


Admission requirements and choice of school

Any student who has successfully completed the eighth year of school can attend pre-vocational school.

Pupils whose end-of-year report contains assessments in all compulsory subjects, with none of them marked with "fail", are entitled to transfer from the lower cycle of academic secondary school to the upper cycle of academic secondary school.

Graduates of a compulsory secondary school can attend an upper cycle of academic secondary school under the following conditions:

  • No entrance examination: In-depth general education in all three compulsory subjects (German, English, mathematics) or basic general education up to the mark "satisfactory”
  • Entrance examination or submission of the positive decision taken by the class conference if pupils have the mark “sufficient” in one compulsory subject
  • Entrance examination if pupils have one to three compulsory subjects marked with “sufficient”.


Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

In pre-vocational schools the pupils are, as a rule, 14 to 15 years old. Classes can be divided into ability groups in two levels in the compulsory subjects German, mathematics and a modern foreign language. Pupils who have failed to complete their 8th school year successfully are to receive special support for their working life and are guided towards the best possible qualification.

The classes at academic secondary school / upper cycle are co-educational and differentiated by age groups. According to § 43 of the School Organisation Act, the number of pupils per class shall be determined by the school head taking into account the requirements of pedagogy and safety, the pupils’ need for support, the spatial possibilities and the possible burden on teachers. For the elective subjects, from the 10th grade groups of pupils must be formed which can also be taught across classes, school grades or schools.

Optional subjects and optional exercises are available for them.


Organisation of the school year

The organisation of the school year is governed by the School Periods Act. The organisation is largely the same as in the lower cycle of academic secondary school (please see chapter 6.1.5).


Organisation of the school day and week

Classes usually start at 8.00 a.m. In individual cases, instruction can be brought forward to 7.00 a.m. Classes must end between 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. at the latest. This will depend on the school grade. The number of weekly lessons varies between school grades and school types, on average this is 32. The school administration is obliged to spread the total number of weekly lessons as evenly as possible over all days of instruction. If there are also lessons on Saturdays, instruction has to end by 12.45 p.m. at the latest.

The duration of lessons and breaks is the same as in chapter 6.1.6.